Promotion de la Photographie de Presse en Région P.A.C.A.

Untamed Corsica

I sometimes think Serge Assier is nothing but an eye - an eye whose natural extension is a camera.

Sometimes great interpretative musicians leave us with the same impression. When, for example, you listen to Samson François the keys of the piano seemed to become flesh and blood. It was by touching his instrument that Samson seemed to recover his heart, his soul, his breath and his joie de vivre. He and the piano became one. When the instrument being played is the violin they form a couple that is "the most beautiful, the most closely joined and the most amazing in the world... It is understandable how a woman can be jealous of a violin. I envied the chaste, tender place it occupied in his body..."

But however amazing this couple may be, it surely cannot be more so than Assier and his camera. His camera seems to be his sole source of happiness; he loves it like a farmer loves his fields. You can feel that and see it.

Serge Assier's way of expressing himself is completely free of any intellectual pretensions. His photographs don't try to prove anything or express a message. Rather they are pictures taken in secret, little snatches of life he alone has caught. Uncompromisingly refusing to pose his subjects, he prefers to grasp whatever chance offers him while it is still in flight. In this respect he is like the greatest photographers. I need no more proof of this than his recent series of photographs taken in Corsica: fifty-one photos that encapsulate much of the ambiguity and mystery of that island.

"A truth from which the reader does not escape unscathed." It is impossible to remain unmoved by the frozen gesticulations in these pictures that reveal the present, bring the past to life and suggest what the future might hold for this contradictory, uncompromising island that is at one and same time turned in upon and turned against itself. These pictures remind us of Pirandello, showing as they do the island's narrow streets, villages perched from the rocky peaks, stony steps on which children play ball, the pale, sun-bleached eucalyptus trees white with dust and shedding their bark, the sluggish sea, the donkeys trudging home from the fields, the isolation of the old people, the windows with their shutters closed and the great ships at anchor, looking for all the world like exhausted steeds who have just returned to the stable.

In 1980 in Marseille, as part of the of the Fête de la Rose, we organised a book fair with signing-sessions under the title Le Carré des Ecrivains. As a writer myself I was there to sign my books. Serge Assier, whom I had not met, came to my stand and told me about his work. He wanted to become a press photographer. Two months later my late husband the Mayor of Marseille Gaston Deferre asked Louis Rancurel, picture editor of Le Provençal and a photographer himself to take on a young, talented free-lancer called Serge Assier. Since then no-one could have taken better advantage of this double life. He works for a daily newspaper to earn his living and is a free-lance photographer for the love of it.

Perhaps chance has little to do with it. Living as he does in land that is a photographer's paradise Serge Assier is up there among the greatest. His Corsican photographs are the best proof of that.

Edmonde Charles-Roux
of the Académie Goncourt

The Corsican soul doesn't open up easily; it is shy and mysterious and prefers to remain unseen like those underground streams that nurture life from the bowels of the earth without ever rising to the surface. You may brush against it without seeing it or hearing its heartbeat; if you want to track it down you need to look behind outward appearances.

For centuries this island has been the backdrop to an ever-repeating tragedy. Its history is bred of pain, suffering, rebellion and anger. Corsica has clung to her mountains, proud and unbending, refusing to submit to a long line of invaders.

The Corsican people are like the landscape of their island: impenetrable. The maquis is a dangerous place for those who are unfamiliar with it. The villages and hamlets only open their hearts to those they love. Although hospitality is considered a tradition and a virtue, it has to be earned...

Serge Assier is an instinctive photographer whose understanding of life owes as much to his heart as his eyes. He and Corsica have understood one another. He has not tried to find its essence on the metalled, signposted highways but has gone to meet it on its own ground, taking the unknown paths marked only by heather and arbutus. He has sought it in the remotest, loneliest mountain villages and in the valleys where the only sound is the music of the wind and the sea.

A photograph is nothing if it is only the reflection of a scene. A true photograph expresses a feeling and freezes an unrepeatable second of truth.

Serge Assier has successfully brought off the miracle of showing us a Corsica from which everything that smacks of tourist guides, fake folksiness and over-familiarity has been stripped away. The island he has looked at with passion has fascinated, bewitched and captivated him. His is an authentic Corsica carved out of the same material as the history we can trace by moving from photo to photo. This is an untamed Corsica smelling of rockrose and mint and dyed in the colours of a friendship that will never fade so long as you know how to remain true to it.

Serge Assier has followed in the footsteps of Laurent Cardinali and Ange Tomasi, the two great Corsican photographers whose yellowing prints are nothing less than the island's memory. They had the advantage of being born on Corsican soil; the soul of the island was already in their veins. Serge Assier has revived that soul by seeing the island through their eyes. The Corsica seen by Serge Assier is continuing in those footsteps.

Personally, I have never seen so much colour as in this black and white symphony.

Jean-René Laplayne

Retour à l'accueil   Retour à l'index des traductions